Last updated: 19 November, 2013

Media watchdog condemns UAE Tweeter jail term

An international media watchdog on Tuesday condemned the jailing of a Tweeter in the United Arab Emirates who used the micro-blogging website to post about the trial of 94 Islamists.

Waleed al-Shehhi was arrested on May 11 after he published on his Twitter account information about the trial of the 94 Emiratis, 69 of whom were jailed for up to 15 years in July on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.

The rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said he was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 500,000 dirhams (100,000 euros) on Monday over his tweets.

The government did not publish the court ruling and rarely comments on such matters. A government spokesman was unavailable for comment.

“We firmly condemn this verdict, which flouts the UAE’s international obligations,” the RSF said in a statement.

“The sentence is both disproportionate and absurd, and coincides with the start of the trial of another 30 persons with alleged Muslim Brotherhood links, to which again only the national media have access.”

The Gulf country is currently trying 10 Emiratis of the 69 already sentenced in July, and 20 Egyptians — six of whom remain at large — charged with setting up an illegal branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. The next hearing is set for December 10.

The conservative monarchies of the Gulf have long viewed the Brotherhood — a grass-roots movement founded in Egypt more than 80 years ago — as a threat because of its political activism and advocacy for Islamic governance.

“The authorities are trying to make an example out of Shehhi in order to dissuade Emirati citizens from posting any information about the latest trial that strays from the official line,” RSF said.

It urged “Shehhi’s immediate release, the quashing of his conviction and the repeal of the cyber-crime law.”

In May, a UAE court upheld a 10-month jail sentence for another netizen, Abdullah al-Hadidi, who posted about the trial of what has become known as the “UAE 94.”

The UAE has not seen any of the widespread pro-reform protests that have swept other Arab states since 2011. However, authorities have cracked down hard on dissent and calls for democratic reform.